"Wyatt Earp" arrived in theaters about six months after the Christmas release of "Tombstone," which featured Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday. This film featured Kevin Costner as Wyatt Earp and Dennis Quad as Doc Holliday. In the dozen years since their release, both films have been consistently compared and the debate may never die as to which film is the better picture. "Wyatt Earp" has been given credit for being more historically accurate and Dennis Quaid has been given a lot of praise for his wonderful portrayal of Doc Holliday, but Kevin Costner received a Razzy for his turn as the historical lawman and the three hour and ten minute film feels longer because of its slow pacing and general lack of action. In my opinion, "Wyatt Earp" is the telling of Wyatt Earp's story for those wanting to invest in the history of the character and "Tombstone" is for those looking for a rousing good time.
One aspect of Lawrence Kasdan's "Wyatt Earp" is that the film spends time looking at the early years of Wyatt Earp and how his family and growing up helped shape who he would become. While Wyatt's brothers Virgil (Michael Madsen) and James (David Andrews) are away fighting during the Civil War and Wyatt's father Nick Earp (Gene Hackman) is out of town, Wyatt decides he wants to join the military and fight for the North. However, Nicholas Earp returns early and stops his son from entering the military and tells the young Wyatt that he needs to do his job around the house and tend the cornfields. Eventually, Virgil and James both return from the Civil War. Virgil is unharmed, but James is badly hurt, bandaged and unable to walk on his own power. His wounds do heal. Wyatt remains home and helps with his younger brother Morgan (Linden Ashby) and his sisters.
Eventually, Wyatt does leave the family homestead and travels on his own. He had spent his time working various jobs out west, but decides to come home to Missouri. When he returns home, he marries the girl he fancied as a teenager, Urilla Sutherland (Annabeth Gish). After numerous requests for marriage, Urilla finally agrees and she and Wyatt build a home and begin to start a family. During her pregnancy, Urilla is stricken with Typhoid Fever and perishes to the disease. Wyatt is saddened by the loss of his wife and unborn child and burns down his home and lunges into any whisky bottle he can. He soon becomes a drunken waste of life and sets himself towards a young death and the life of a horse thief. He lands himself in jail, but is freed by his father and told to never come back to Arkansas or he will be hung for his horse thievery. By being told to leave the land he made his home by his father, Wyatt cleans up his act and throws away whiskey in favor of coffee.
The next line of work for Wyatt is that of a buffalo hide hunter. He comes to an outpost with a wagon full of hides and no employees to cut the hide from the buffalo. Ed Masterson (Bill Pullman) and his brother Bat Masterson (Tom Sizemore) quickly approach Wyatt and join him under his employ. The three grow a strong bond as friends, but it isn't too long before the restless Wyatt needs to move on and try to do bigger and better things. He finds life as a deputy lawman in Wichita, Kansas, but shortly leaves that town when he is given a better job offer for the up and coming cattle town of Dodge City. He brings the Masterson brothers and his own three brothers to work with him at Dodge City, where they are given seventy five dollars a month and two dollars and fifty cents for each arrest. Wyatt had found quick wealth and notoriety for his work in Dodge City, but his actions and methods are questionable and he finds himself replaced by the mayor with Ed Masterson taking his role as Marshall.
Wyatt's next profession is that of a bounty hunter for the railroad. He is paid to bring back outlaws who have committed a crime and while looking for one outlaw, he finds himself in Fort Griffin, Texas. In Texas, Wyatt meets up with the ‘sporting man' and possible outlaw Doc Holliday. Holliday is dying of tuberculosis and spends his time gambling, drinking and traveling with the whore Big Nose Kate (Isabella Rossellini). Holliday is considered a murderer by many, but this early meeting quickly forges a friendship between the two that will last for many years until Doc Holliday finally dies. His work as a bounty hunter does not last long because Ed is gunned down and Wyatt is asked to return to Dodge City to help restore order. He obliges and returns to help his brothers regain the peace in the city.
Happiness is not part of his return and Wyatt soon tries to persuade his brothers and his friends Bat and Doc to go with him to Tombstone. With the promise of fortune and a better life, Wyatt and his entourage travel to Tombstone. Wyatt takes along Mattie Blaylock (Mare Winningham), a young prostitute who has feelings for him and they share a common-law marriage. At Tombstone, Wyatt and his brothers form a dangerous rivalry with a band of outlaws led by Ike Clanton (Jeff Fahey) and Curly Bill Brocius (Lewis Smith). He also finds himself at odds with Mattie and a County Sheriff when Wyatt begins a romance with a young Jewish girl, Josie Marcus (Joanna Going). Mattie nearly commits suicide to keep Wyatt away from Josie, but they are all forced together in the aftermath of the legendary gunfight at the OK Corral.
After the gunfight, Morgan is shot dead by the Ike Clanton and the remaining members of his group. Virgil is also badly wounded and nearly killed. Wyatt and his brothers had fought charges of murder directly after the gunfight, but found not guilty. However, Wyatt and Doc set out to kill the remaining Clanton gang to avenge Morgan's death and Wyatt becomes an outlaw to coincide with his status as a lawman. He spends much of his time traveling and finally does seek some rest after Ike and Billy are both murdered in cold blood. When Wyatt finally feels that justice has been served for the death of his brother, Wyatt finds Josie and sets of to finally settle down and shake away the memories of the death of Urilla and the failed first try at settling down.
I liked "Wyatt Earp," but I found it hard to sit through the entire film. There were times when I was tempted to pause the movie and take part in some "Halo 3." However, running both a PS3 and an Xbox 360 demands a lot of power and I decided against it and forced myself to sit and watch this three hour plus movie in one sitting. This was directly after watching the two hour plus "The Wild Bunch." The movie looked at many different aspects of the life of "Wyatt Earp," but I was disappointed it didn't show him in Deadwood. Kevin Costner is perfectly fine as Wyatt Earp and I feel he earned a Razzy because he is Kevin Costner. Dennis Quaid was simply awesome as Doc Holliday. Behind the facial hair and makeup, it was hard to tell it was Quaid. The rest of the cast wasn't bad either, although I had a hard time believing that Michael Madsen and Kevin Costner could be brothers.
The film takes a lot of time into looking deep into the life of Wyatt Earp. It looks far deeper into the character than what "Tombstone" did and tries to show some of the emotion and thought process behind the legendary lawman and outlaw. This is a film that tries hard into giving the most in-depth vision of Earp ever attempted and it both succeeds and fails because of this. By giving a more personal and deep look at Earp, Lawrence Kasden has created a film that moves by too slowly. It becomes and excess of history. For instance, the O.K. Corral gunfight has a lot of buildup, but the actual fight lasts for just a few hectic seconds on-screen and leaves the audience surprised they have witnessed the most memorable gunfight in the history of the Wild West and not realized it. It is entirely possible to spend too much time on what subject and Kasden and his filmmakers did exactly that.
Is "Wyatt Earp" better or worse than "Tombstone?" This is a question that comes up frequently, but it truly is like comparing apples to oranges. "Tombstone" is a big-budget Hollywood action film with overly animated characters and a fast moving story. It is intended to entertain and does exactly that. "Wyatt Earp" is supposed to be the emotional and personal cataloging of the man's life and throws aside big budget action sequences and catchy dialogue for an attempt at historical accuracy. To compare the two almost feels equivalent to comparing "2001: A Space Odyssey" to "Star Wars." You can compare them, but they are two entirely different films with entirely different purposes. I may enjoy "Wyatt Earp" more than "Tombstone" as an overall product, but if I want to sit down and just relax to a fun Western, then I'd go for Tombstone.
"Wyatt Earp" is a fine film with a tremendous attention to detail. There is no denying that Costner and Kasden found a love affair with the lawman. With Costner, Quaid, Gene Hackman, Jeff Fahey, Mark Harmon, Michael Madsen, Bill Pullman, Tom Sizemore, Tea Leoni, James Caviezel, Adam Baldwin and other familiar faces lending their talents to the film, this is a wonderful ensemble cast that could have been deserving of something a little more epic and entertaining, but they intended to create a history lesson and history lessons are not supposed to be exhilarating. It's slow, but it is purposeful. The Wild West as imagined by Kasden is a beautiful place to be and Wyatt Earp was a driven and flawed man who loved money when he lost the love of a woman. If you want excitement, then I would point you in another direction. If you want to watch a film that strives to be historically accurate, then "Wyatt Earp" might be worth your time and money investment.
"Wyatt Earp" is delivered to retail outlets on the same day as the 1969 Sam Peckinpah Western, "The Wild Bunch." This 1994 film looks decent in high definition, but its VC-1 mastering cannot quite stack up and compare to a film twenty five years older. Detail of this 2.40:1 film is solid. Colors are good, but the transfer is both inconsistent and not nearly as impressive as the Western it shares shelve space with. Whereas there was a little edge enhancement issues in "The Wild Bunch," "Wyatt Earp" is riddled with heavy amounts of halos and these can be viewed throughout much of the film and against the almost always black-clad Earp. Black levels were weak at times and showed definite gradients against backgrounds and weakened shadow detail. There were visible instants of film grain, but it was not overly distracting. The picture quality was still not bad, with overly strong amount of detail and vivid and nicely saturated colors, but the digital flaws outweighed the benefits. Part of the problem certainly rested in the fact that I watched the two films back-to-back and was simply blown away by "The Wild Bunch" and not very impressed with "Wyatt Earp."
The sound quality of "Wyatt Earp" was at least on par with "The Wild Bunch." This is a very long film at 190 minutes and it does have some supplemental materials that would create quite a challenge to include a high definition Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix or an Uncompressed PCM soundtrack. There is only so much room on a 50GB dual-layer Blu-ray disc. The included Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack sounds pretty good. There are nice moments where the James Newton Howard theatrical score sounds warm and fills the room. Ambient sounds are found throughout the film and helps create a hectic feeling saloon or unruly crowd. A few gunshots can be heard ringing in the rear channels. Still, the majority of sound populates only the front three channels and the rears are often ignored. Dialogue is strong and very clear, which is an improvement over "The Wild Bunch" and its Dolby Digital soundtrack. Bass representation in the low frequency effects channel is decent. Direction across channels is sound, with movement from left to right (and visa versa) clean and efficient. Had "Wyatt Earp" been a little more enveloping in its presence, it would have been quite an experience. It isn't a bad soundtrack, but just feels like it is doing enough to get by.
"Wyatt Earp" comes equipped with about forty five minutes of additional footage. Under the "Behind the Story" section, two documentaries are included. It Happened That Way: Behind-the-Scenes Documentary (14:03) is a relatively short documentary that challenges the .1 LFE channel, but stays constrained to a 4:3 aspect ratio. This piece feels overly promotional and suffers from the usual back-patting of EPK featurettes, but the doc does look at some nice moments with Lawrence Kasdan, Costner and others and what went on behind the scenes. The second documentary, Walk with a Legend: Vintage making-of TV special. (22:41) is narrated by Tom Skerret. This is another promotional piece looking at "Wyatt Earp" and I'm not sure of what is so vintage about it, considering it is about as old as the first documentary. This was a little nicer than the first documentary and did look more into the genre and the legends. Before the "Additional Footage," the Theatrical Trailer is thrown in.
There are eleven Lifted Scenes (17:58) that can be played individually or collectively. Many of these are simply character building moments, but a few of the scenes do add more to the story. A little more backstory is included to Wyatt's relationships with Josie and Urilla. Some times is spent with his buffalo skinning profession. My favorite scene was a moment with Doc and Wyatt in a jail. I thought that Dennis Quaid's performance was stellar and enjoyed another moment with him here. Overall, the scenes contain nothing groundbreaking or game-changing and the 190 minute film certainly did not need another eighteen minutes added to it. There are nice to sit through and easily the nicest offering on this disc.
"Wyatt Earp" was the second of two epic Westerns from Warner Bros. I watched on Blu-ray in one very long afternoon. This three-hour plus movie took me into the evening hours and although I was entertained, I certainly could not put this film in the same class as the Sam Peckinpah movie. The ensemble cast is good and I don't feel that Costner deserved the Razzy for his performance. The most impressive cast member was Dennis Quaid. His turn as Doc Holliday was the best portrayal of the character I can remember and he outclasses the work done by Kilmer in the more popular "Tombstone." This is a long and trodding historical look at the life and times of Wyatt Earp and where the film succeeds in taking a deeper look at the life of Earp, it fails in doing so in a slow and tedious manner. The Blu-ray release has a nicely detailed and colorful transfer that is marred with problems in its digital transfer. The soundtrack is thin, but manages to get by. The supplements are not that impressive and weigh in at only about forty five minutes of bonus materials. They feel overly promotional and does not lend much to the package. Overall, this is still the best version of "Wyatt Earp" on the market (tied with the identical HD-DVD release), but far from being the best Western.